Team Pistorius Prepares to Defend the Brand

Janine Hills of Vuma Reputation Management

Janine Hills of Vuma Reputation Management

In When Human Brands Go Wrong: The Killing of Reeva Steenkamp and the Trial of Oscar Pistorius I drew attention to some features of his affidavit (its ‘text bridges’) and to Pistorius as a human brand.

In human brands reputation is everything. That’s why the reputation of Oscar Pistorius has now been placed in the hands of Vuma Reputation Management. All family statements are released through Vuma. His team of lawyers works with Vuma. Journalists’ questions must be directed to Vuma.

The first job of any reputable reputation management company is give the impression that it’s doing no such thing. This from its CEO, Janine Hills:

 “This is about an incredible, iconic star, a giant in the media,” she said. “Our role as a team really is to provide the information that the media is calling for, not to manage his image … The Pistorius family would have been remiss had they not set a system in place to respect that and get Oscar’s message across factually, accurately and without distortion.” (my emphasis)
Of course, the best place to ‘get Oscar’s message across factually, accurately and without distortion’ is a court of law. The family of a man charged with murder is best advised to respect the legal process and the dead woman’s family and say precisely nothing until the court has passed judgment.

But they’re not going to do that.

The family is an important part of Team Pistorius. Its spokesperson is his uncle, Arnold Pistorius. It’s his house Pistorius is staying in. It’s uncle Arnold who tells the world that Pistorius wants to make contact with the family of Reeva Steenkamp.  Just what they need just now, I’m sure. His sister Aimee tweets ‘Reeva’s family in my thoughts today’.

So what exactly is the point of Vuma getting ‘Oscar’s message across’? Money. There’s a lot of it at stake here and they’re not going to let go of it without a fight. If they can shape public opinion that can influence the judge.

An important vehicle for this is his web site, Oscarpistorius,com, now in the hands of Vuma and Ms Hills:

Following the recent tragic events and the enormous global interest, the family of Oscar Pistorius has taken the decision to devote his official website to the latest news about developments as well as messages of support.

It’s been transformed into the Oscar Pistorius Reputation Salvage site:

Note the black background in the header. Is he grieving for her, or are we to grieve for him?

His status as a defendant accused of murder becomes ‘the recent tragic events’. Elsewhere deliberately firing four rounds at someone is referred to as a ‘tragic accident’.

There is a page for ‘Messages of Support’, ‘numbering in the thousands’. As if they’re voting on a reality TV show.

There is a page for sympathetic Media Articles, such as ‘The Hermeneutics of Scapegoating: Oscar Pistorius Amid the Wolves‘.

It’s only a matter of time before Pistorius emerges as the victim of a tragic misunderstanding and the dead Reeva Steenkamp becomes a footnote.

What Vuma is doing here is attempting to maintain and restore the emotional connections consumers have with Brand Pistorius, to protect its brand equity.

All of this suggests that those in the know believe that this brand is eminently salvageable, or, at least, they believe he is ‘innocent until proven broke’.

But there is a big problem here.

Read his affidavit to the court and see if you agree with me that it reads like someone in reputation management had as much a hand in it as the lawyers. Such an explicit statement of defence was not mandatory. It was only a bail hearing. This is acknowledged:

I am advised that I do not have to deal with the merits of the case for purposes of the bail application. However, I believe that it is appropriate to deal with the merits in this application, particularly in view of the State’s contention that I planned to murder Reeva.

It deals with the ‘merits of the case’, I believe, because it is necessary to defend his reputation, or rather, his brand’s reputation.

The problem for Pistorius is that he is now bound by that affidavit—and it was made before all the evidence was known. The autopsy report and the forensic report on the crime scene were not available and they may well undermine his defence.

This defence of the brand in the affidavit may be the undoing of Pistorius the man at the trial.

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